Life in God, abundant life as Christ offers, is a lived reality, not a thing to have or hold; living in love of God and neighbor is living in God’s new life.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 15 C
Text: Luke 10:25-37
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
You can’t inherit eternal life. It’s not a thing to be possessed.
You can’t receive it or hold it. You can’t get it with a ticket, or own it. Eternal life, the abundant life Christ Jesus wants for you and me and the whole creation, isn’t a thing, a noun. It is only lived, experienced. It’s a verb.
So our friend today is mistaken at the start. He wants to know how to obtain something he thinks Jesus can give. But look at Jesus’ answer.
Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. Do, this, Jesus says, and you will live. Do this, live this, and you will be living in this life from God you want.
Our friend, and so many like him, including you and me sometimes, believe you do what God wants so you’re rewarded with something.
No, Jesus says. This life isn’t a thing to be won or given. Do this – this love of God and love of neighbor – and you have it, right now, here. In that doing, you will know God’s abundant, eternal, new life.
We recognize our friend’s confusion from other things.
Take physical fitness. That’s not a reward, a present, something you can inherit or buy. No magic pills or tickets will give it to you. Exercise and eat healthily, and you’ll get there. Breaking free of addiction is the same. You can’t order it online or ask someone for it. You find support and guidance, and learn new ways of being, and you live into sobriety, and health.
But both of those things mean big changes in your life, one day at a time. And our friend is smart, like us. He knows that love of God and neighbor will mean changes in his life. Profound changes at times. And that’s not easy. So, rather than focus on the broad, complete love of God and neighbor and all that might mean for his actions, he tries one more time to make a noun the important thing, not the verb, not the doing. Even though doing it will give him exactly what he wants, he decides to limit the category of neighbor instead of focusing on his love.
Let’s talk about who you mean, Jesus. Who is my neighbor? Let’s describe that noun. Then maybe I can find a way to do this.
Well, you can’t trick Jesus.
Jesus sees clearly what he’s doing. Since our friend didn’t respond well to direct teaching, Jesus tries another way. “Let me tell you a story.” A story of someone beaten and left for dead in a ditch, a story of some who walked by and one who didn’t, who helped, who loved.
And Jesus refuses to classify neighbor. The categories mean nothing – priest, Levite, Samaritan, unknown guy in the ditch. What he asks at the end is, who acted as neighbor? Who loved someone here? The only question that matters this moment, this afternoon, tomorrow, next month, next year, is: am I acting in love or not?
Caring about the nouns, the categories we make, instead of the verbs, what we do, has nearly destroyed our world.
For almost half a millennium, racism has existed here because people who looked a certain way ordered their world by defining who was their neighbor, the person they cared about. They decided those of different skin color and culture were not neighbor, not even human, therefore could be enslaved, abused, killed. They were a noun, a thing. Property.
The legal system of this country and our social norms and customs and our cultural understanding have been shaped for hundreds of years on that ordering. We shouldn’t be surprised that we find embedded biases and prejudices in our own hearts and minds. We’ve been cooked in it for centuries.
And for millennia in the Western world, those who identify as male have been in charge. And they ordered their world by defining who was their neighbor, the person they cared about. They decided that everyone who wasn’t male was not neighbor, not fully human. They said that women weren’t capable, weren’t worthy of respect. Didn’t deserve equal pay or rights. Often they were property. A noun, a thing to be controlled. As the highest court in our land just reinforced.
Horrors are done for centuries because no one – especially, tragically, no one who’s been running everything all these years – ever stops and says, “the only thing that matters here is are we loving. Do we love all others as we love ourselves?
But when you focus on the verbs, on what you’re doing, everything changes.
Four decades ago, when Mount Olive began to be a safe, welcoming place for those who were LGBTQ, this community quit playing with nouns. All of the anguish and hatred and fighting over sexual orientation always focused on the nouns – who’s doing what with who, what physical parts belonged with what other ones, who gets to be with whom? Defining people and declaring what that means for the life they can live.
But this community – and thankfully many others – realized the only question was: is loving visible here? Can you see living in faithful, committed ways? Is there forgiving? All verbs. No definitions of the partners needed. The verb is everything, truth is seen in the doing.
What we learned here could change the world. When the only question in voting, in public policy, how you treat people at home, at work, out in the community, when the only question in thinking and acting on what’s wrong with our society and culture is: is this loving?, everything can change. Am I living in the love I know from God? Is our society acting in love? Is this policy a loving thing or not? Are we still objectifying people so that we don’t have to ask the love question?
The verbs are everything, Jesus says. Love God, love neighbor. Do this, and you’ll live. Right now. And so will this world.
Do you want God’s eternal life, God’s abundant life? It’s yours in your living in love of God and neighbor. And when you and I start living this abundant life, and others do, and others do, then this world actually becomes what God has always dreamed. This world will live, right now. Things will change, right now. Joy and hope and healing will begin, right now.
Start with loving your God with everything you are and have. Because when you dive fully into love of God you will find to your joy that you are beloved to God. You will know in your heart and soul and mind and strength how precious you are, how important you are, how much God will risk to live in love with you. That’s eternal life, right there.
And then, filled to the brim with that love in and from God, love of neighbor’s the only natural action. It pours out from you and me, and changes the world. That’s abundant life, right there.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, and you will live.
In the name of Jesus. Amen